For your next vacation, consider a tour that combines bike and boat
When it comes to travel, there may be no better way to see the world than a trip combining a boat journey and bicycle touring.
Whether a river or coastal cruise, it mixes relaxation and pampering on board ship with active days of cycling in the countryside or city.
And if you want to make it a little easier on yourself, you can opt for an electric bike.
On a trip to Croatia in late August, my wife and I found it exhilarating, if not slightly guilt-inducing to push the “turbo” button and shoot up a hill effortlessly with an electric-powered assist in the pedals.
Regardless of whether on a battery-equipped, or a conventional bike, touring can be done more or less at your own pace with time to savor the passing scenery, stop for a photo or refreshment or visit a point of interest.
Europe is an especially popular spot for boat-and-bike excursions and when we decided to go, we had a hard time choosing a destination. So we went for the gusto and signed up for two surprisingly affordable trips - a Danube River cruise, and a second voyage in Croatia.
Croatia enticed us with its many islands and natural parks on our visit to the central “Dalmation” Coast. The country has a rich history that includes Greek, Roman, Venetian and Byzantine influences in the compact medieval fortress towns we visited, their shiny stone, narrow streets and sidewalks polished by centuries of foot traffic.
And along the Danube it was tranquil bike paths, mostly away from traffic, stopping into picturesque villages and castles, or a 700-year-old Trappist monastery to buy a bottle of ale. There were opportunities to taste cider, wine and apricot liqueurs.
Our week-long “Danube Waltz,” as it was dubbed, took us to Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. It included tours of great cathedrals, art museums, and sampling chocolate torte and a palace concert in Vienna to listen to the works of Mozart and Hayden, along with dance and vocal performances.
The Danube, the second longest river in Europe (after Russia’s Volga), is not blue, by the way, but typically green. When we boarded our 330-foot-long, 75-cabin ship, the MV Carissima, for the first time in Passau, Germany, we were informed that our itinerary was altered, due to low river flow caused by scant rainfall, a not uncommon occurrence in recent years.
That meant the boat would not be able to go as far as our last stop - Budapest - and instead we would be bussed there and miss one of five planned cycling days. But to cheer us up, we were given free beer and wine for the week. No one seemed to mind.
The Carissima had three decks and a good-sized window in our cabin to take in the pastoral scenes and wildlife that included flocks of swans, as well as a close-up view of the dozen locks that the ship barely squeezed through.
Each morning after breakfast we would set out for a bike ride of around 25 to 30 miles, taking a prepared lunch with us, a map and printed directions, and a plan to meet the boat downstream in the afternoon.
The bike trails, some of them old tow paths where horses once pulled barges laden with salt and other trade goods, were well marked, generally flat and often shaded by trees.
One day might consist of cycling through vineyards in Austria, by churches and ruins of castles, including one near the quaint hillside town of Durstein with buildings that date to the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. It had the distinction of being the spot where Richard the Lionhearted, king of England, was kept captive in 1192. He was on his way back from the Crusades when he was imprisoned by an Austrian duke he offended.
Not too far away in the same Wachau Valley, is the village of Willendorf where a world renowned 25,000-plus-year-old Venus figurine was found, an ancient full-figured symbol of fertility. Described as the oldest piece of European art, it was uncovered during railway construction more than a century ago. A replica now sits close to where it was found, with the original artifact housed in a museum in Vienna.
Speaking of Vienna, we ditched our bikes there in favor of a hop-on, hop-off bus, and even made it to Sigmund Freud’s home and office where he pioneered the use of psychotherapy before the Nazis drove him out.
There were plenty of other noteworthy attractions during the week, including in Melk, Austria, site of a massive Benedictine abbey overlooking the small town, a UNESCO World Heritage site where monks have lived since 1089.
The existing abbey, built in the early 1700s, has an ornate, golden-colored facade and grand towers with all the trappings of a Baroque palace - sumptuous altarpieces, sculptures and frescoes.